The Kansas legislature is in session for 2018 and city and county officials are keeping a watchful eye on several aspects of discussion.
The two major topics are for the municipalities tax lid and the Star Bonds.
"Basically, the tax lid states that municipalities cannot raises taxes more than the prior year’s inflation rates without a local vote," Ford County Administrator J.D. Gilbert said.
"The reasoning was that the state felt municipalities were not being responsible and raising taxes at a rate that was too fast over a certain number of years.
"If the county wanted to raise taxes above the rate of inflation from the prior year, there isn’t enough time between the budget deadline and voting deadline to organize a vote.
"The vote would also cost at least 5-figures and that money would have to come from tax funds – so, the entire process does not make sense.
"Also, the local voters already have many opportunities to discuss, understand and suggest budget items for the County. The budget is published for comment before it is approved. Our budgeting process is months-long and done completely in open meetings – we don’t make budget changes in Executive Session, so adding another vote doesn’t make sense."
According to Gilbert, the inflation rates the state uses to determine the tax lid is the Consumer Price Index rates.
Essentially, the CPI uses purchase items citizens buy on a day-to-day basis such as food beverages, housing (furniture, rent, etc.), apparel, transportation, medical care, recreation, education and communication and other goods and services.
"The CPI does not take into account non-urban areas or farm families, which is what Ford County and a majority of Kansas is – agriculture and rural," Gilbert said. "As you can see, municipal budgets are not purchasing these items – essentially, this is the wrong basket-of-goods to use a measurement for local budgets.
"We would fall in line with the vehicles, fuel, insurance, etc., but that is about it.
"There is a more accurate inflation measurement called the PPI or Producers Price Index that is more closely related to municipal budgets, but that wasn’t chosen.
"Overall, the Tax Lid was, and is, the perfect example of the loss of local control.
"It is just not good legislation.
"The county doesn’t like anything the legislature does that removes or weakens local control (Home Rule) abilities.
"The Tax Lid is still something the county disagrees with. That’s the big ticket item."
The county is also dealing with the 911 Coordinating Council.
Recently Ford County Communications made updates to its emergency radios and are now working on its phone systems.
"There was an early push by the 911 Coordinating Council to make some changes to how funding is distributed and training standards addressed and that was something we pushed hard against," Gilbert said.
According to city manager Cherise Tieben, the city is also dealing with the issues of the tax lid as well as possible legislation amendments to the Star Bonds.
"We are watching what they are doing with the Star Bond legislation," Tieben said. "They were suppose to study it for a year, and then come back the next year and possibly amend the legislation, now they're talking about making some amendments to it already.
"Obviously we don't want to see that happen until we are completed with our Star Bonds project which will probably be the end of the year but any changes they make we are anticipating impacting us as of July 1."
Star Bonds are an incentive available statutorily every five years for community improvements.
The current Star Bonds project is for the retail development along 14th Avenue that will see Sutherland's home improvement store coming along with additional retail in three lots in front of the Sutherland's store near Soule Street.
"I would prefer to not have to rush to the market with our Star Bonds project on the north end of town," Tieben said. "But if they get to amending the legislation in a little bit of a hap hazard way, it may impact us."
The extent of the amendments that could be made are still up in the air, according to Tieben, there is positive and negative support, with some in the legislature saying to get rid of the Star Bonds all together.
"I don't think they would get rid of it all together because it is impactful," Tieben said. "And you just never know what will come out of them."
Star Bonds were previously used for the Heritage District that brought in Long Branch Lagoon, Guymon Petro Bar and Grill, Fort Dodge RV Park and Holiday Inn Express near 4th Avenue and Park Street.
The city recently approved to bring in Rib Crib restaurant on Trail Street as part of the Heritage District as well.
With the legislative sessions ongoing, District 119 representative Brad Ralph of Dodge City said that certain "must address" items have expanded since the last session.
"It reminds of the movie The Martian," Ralph said. "Matt Damon plays an astronaut stranded on Mars and the movie tracks his efforts to survive.
"In a final scene he has returned to Earth and is speaking to a class of young astronauts about that moment when things will go wrong for them, and how they will survive. He says to them, 'You just begin. You solve one problem and then you solve the next problem … and then the next. And if you solve enough problems, you get to come home.'
"There is wisdom in that statement. We can bog down in all of the things that need attention, and in the magnitude of those issues and concerns. But what we really need to do 'is just begin.'
"We can’t solve all problems at once. And we can’t solve all problems to everyone’s satisfaction. And we can’t solve all problems. But we can begin."
The latest session according to Ralph, will be about the budget, judiciary, commerce and education. "The Governor’s State of the State speech gave us little in the way of leadership on the budget," Ralph said. "It was short on specifics and signaled a clear disconnect from engagement during this upcoming session.
"The challenges of tackling education, state hospitals, prisons and any of the other numerous issues is clearly left to the House and the Senate.
"The Committee on Appropriations heard from the Governor’s Budget Director on the day following the Governor’s address, and the presentation did little to allay any of the concerns regarding executive leadership on any of these issues.
"I am encouraged by the fact that the representatives on Appropriations give every indication that we are up to the task of shouldering our responsibilities in this instance." On the judiciary side, Ralph said there will be hearings regarding asset forfeitures as well as addressing some suggested changes to procedures for adoptions in the state.
"I am also anxious to take a look at some suggested legislation that would outline a limited amnesty program designed to get certain drivers' licenses, suspended for a limited number of reasons, reinstated," Ralph said. Ralph is hopeful that the Commerce Committee begins an evaluation on the current economic development programs throughout the state.
"We currently have no structure in place to review our current programs for their effectiveness and impact," Ralph said. "As in any other area, I believe that it is important to monitor and evaluate every economic development program implemented by the legislature.
'This must include some form of rubric for clear and unbiased assessment. Our programs must be accountable for their shortcomings as well as their successes." For education, a committee is in the process of addressing the needs regarding the Kansas Supreme Court order that stated the state's educational funding system is not compliant with the Kansas Constitution, according to Ralph.
"Though many ideas are floating around at this time, most seem to be trial balloons of sorts," Ralph said. "It is my earnest hope that all will be willing to give serious contemplation to all discussions of ideas in this realm."
Ralph also went on to say that when the election takes place in November 2018, he will be running for re-election.
"Though it might seem early,I have filed for re-election to the House of Representatives," Ralph said. "I will stand for re-election in November 2018 at the completion of my first term this year.
"There is important work still to be done and it won't be finished this year."
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